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EES3001 Professional Scientific Literacy

This guide provides resources to help you with your rapid review assignment

Why Plan Your Question?

By definition, systematic reviews answer specific, concrete questions. If you begin searching without defining your question, your search will take longer and be more difficult. You will also risk bias because your ideas might be influenced by what you find.


PICO is a common way to define research questions.

P: Patient or Population being studied

I: Intervention or Exposure affecting the population being studied

C: Comparison ie., to other possible interventions

O: Outcome = how you're measuring the success of the intervention

Depending on your question, you might also include a fifth line on Method/Study, in which you would specify the type of study you will look at.

EXAMPLE: Is poison-baiting effective at eradicating rats from islands?

Patient or Population: rat populations on islands

Intervention or Exposure: poison-baiting

Comparison: no baiting (or other methods)

Outcome: eradication of rat populations

Notice how this structure forces the researcher to be more specific. With an example like this one, you would also want to clearly define each term.

Concept Mapping

Some people find brainstorming techniques such as concept mapping to be helpful. Concept maps are linked nodes of concepts or ideas; the linking arrows demonstrate connections between nodes.


A concept map

Source: “concept_map_lrg,” jean-louis zimmermann

There are tons of different software options available to assist with concept mapping.

Here are a few browser-based tools to get you started:


A systematic review aims to be as unbiased as possible. One kind of bias is in how you conduct your search.

Students often make two mistakes, by searching only for:

  • Studies in English
  • Studies that have the full-text article available

Avoid these types of bias:

  • Language bias: Looking only at studies published in your language eliminates a large set of relevant studies and biases your results.
  • Results bias: Including articles based on their results – this risks excluding studies because you disagree with them.
  • Publication type bias: Excluding certain types of studies (such as grey literature) also excludes a significant portion of the relevant literature.

You will also need to assess the bias of studies you find. This is discussed in Critical Appraisal.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Source: "Studying," Skakerman

Before searching, you will need to know what you're searching for. It helps to have specific inclusion and exclusion criteria. Some possible criteria:

  • Time frame: If a treatment emerged at a certain date, you might exclude earlier results.
  • Type of design or study: You might include only randomized controlled trials, for instance.
  • Specific to your question: If your question focuses on a specific population, for example, or an intervention often combined with others in studies, you will need clear inclusion/exclusion criteria. For instance, if your review is on teenagers from ages 13 to 19, will you include studies on 18-24 year olds?